This is one of those dishes that originated from a very simple recipe and have evolved into many variations, each region and even families, having their own interpretation. The use of dry salted cod, popular when fresh fish is not available, as well as the original recipe, came from the Basque region in Spain. The dish is called Bacalao a la Vizcaina, consisting of dry salted cod loins, de-salted and rehydrated, that are fried with onions and olive oil, then smothered in a red dry-pepper sauce. In Mexico, Bacalao a la Vizcaina is more of a stew, and recipes always call for shredding the fish first, and the use of roasted red peppers instead of dry; it has also evolved to include tomato, parsley, potatoes, olives, capers and a type of long yellow peppers that are sold pickled in a jar:
On the label “chiles güeros carricillos” means “reed-like little blond peppers”, from the Spanish word carrizo (reed) for their elongated shape; they are also known as chiles largos (long peppers) or more generically, as on the label, chiles gűeros (blond peppers, although there are many other light-coloured peppers in Mexico referred by that name). If these are not available, I think the closest would be Friggitello, an Italian sweet, roundish pepper with a slight punch, often sold pickled as well, and commonly known as golden pepperoncino in the US and Canada.
Bacalao a la Veracruzana is another version of the cod stew, from the Mexican state of Veracruz, omitting the red peppers all together, and using chopped tomatoes, almonds, oregano, and finished with white wine. In Mexico City, the dish is often simply called “Bacalao” – “Cod”, with the word attached to the season when the stew is prepared, either “Bacalao de Cuaresma” – “Lent Cod” or “Bacalao Navideño” – “Christmas Cod”; this is the style I am sharing in this post, which is rich and thick, for the perfect torta de bacalao, as featured in my previous post.
Mexico City Style Cod Stew – Bacalao estilo CDMX
1 lb (454 g) salted dry cod; boneless, skinless
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion (I had four very small ones)
4 cloves garlic
2-3 medium potatoes
1 can (796 ml) crushed tomatoes
½ cup water, or more, as needed
½ bunch parsley
1 cup green olives; pitted or stuffed
5-6 yellow pickled peppers; known as güeros, largos, or carricillos. If not available, other yellow pickled peppers may be used, such as hot banana, or pepperoncini
Salt, if needed, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Optional: peeled and slivered almonds, capers, roasted red peppers
To serve: crusty bread, corn tortillas
I found packaged dry salted cod (as pictured below, left) at my local supermarket. The fillets were nice and fat, pretty clean, and had no skin or bones, as shown below, right, after transferring to a non-metallic container:
After placing the fish in a non-metallic container, cover with water (photo below, left); store in the fridge, changing water three to four times a day, for two to three days, until the water does not taste salty anymore. This is a very important step, otherwise the fish will be too salty. Drain water; the photo below, right, shows the fish well hydrated after three days:
With clean hands, break fish into small pieces, removing any remains of skin, tough tissue, scales or bones. The photo below shows the shredded fish, and a small container with fibrous tissue and skin (to be discarded):
Reserve shredded fish. Gather the rest of the ingredients, mostly items in the pantry (photo below, left): salt, pepper, canned crushed tomatoes, olives (these are stuffed), yellow pickled peppers, olive oil, parsley, potatoes, onions and garlic. The optional extras are shown in the photo below, right: roasted red peppers, capers and peeled slivered almonds (I do not use any of these extras):
Wash parsley and potatoes. Remove and discard tough stems from parsley, then finely chop and reserve. Peel garlic and mince; reserve. Peel onions and chop finely; reserve. In a large pot, warm up olive oil over medium heat, add chopped onions and sauté, stirring, until onions are translucent; incorporate minced garlic (photo below, left). Cook for half a minute, stirring, to avoid burning the garlic, then add shredded fish (photo below, right):
Mix fish in, coating with the oil and aromatics, and continue cooking and stirring occasionally for five minutes, so the fish may absorb all the flavours. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut into small cubes, then add to the pot and incorporate (photo below, left). Allow the potatoes to cook for a couple of minutes, then open can of tomatoes and pour in, along with half a cup of water (photo below, right):
Mix to incorporate, bring to boil, then reduce heat. Cover and let simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Check potatoes with a fork, and continue cooking, adding more water if needed, until tender:
Once potatoes are fully cooked, add olives, capers (if using) and parsley (photo below, left); stir to mix, and continue cooking for another five minutes. Check seasoning and adjust, as needed, with salt and pepper, to taste (this is done at the very end, once the remaining salt from the fish, and all the flavours have blended.) Add almonds and roasted red peppers (if using); the yellow peppers may be offered on the side, at the table, or added to the pot (photo below, right):
Serve hot with crusty bread and corn tortillas:
Many cooks choose to prepare this stew a day in advance, and reheat the next day before serving, once the flavours have had a chance to meld together. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is very traditional to scoop reheated leftovers (“el recalentado”) into a crusty telera bun, for a torta de bacalao:
- Potatoes may be boiled whole, then peeled and cubed, before adding to the pot, to reduce cooking time. Do not add at the beginning of the cooking process, but with the olives and parsley towards the end, lest they become too soft and start to dissolve in the sauce.
- If dry salted cod is not available, a few cans of chunky tuna may be used instead. The flavour will definitely be different, but the stew will still be very tasty, and good for a torta de atún. The dish might lose some of its grace, maybe even left in a shambles from the tuna crumbling more easily than dry cod, so use cooked potatoes as suggested above, reduce cooking times, and choose a good quality tuna; pictured below, my favourite type, yellowfin chunk light tuna, packed in water:
This is my last recipe for the Lenten season, a time when Christians pray and try to better themselves, as they reflect with contrite hearts, in preparation for Easter, sometimes giving up some foods, such as meat or sweets. In my next posts, some recipes to sweeten the Easter season.
I am sharing my recipe at Thursday Favourite Things #434 with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode. UPDATE: Special thanks to Bev for featuring my recipe at her party.